Yesterday, I was playing Resident Evil 5. Yes, I know, I’m way behind. But that’s not the point of today’s article; as the title suggests, this is about videogame violence. I want to go at it from a different angle though, so don’t zone out just yet!

So, I was playing Resi 5. The Desperate Escape DLC, to be precise. A non-gaming friend walked in while I was shotgunning a constant stream of poor Majini straight in their snarling faces, and said friend exclaimed, with an almost audible sigh, “That’s all they are, these things: killing people.” Not wishing to be drawn into yet another ‘videogames will turn you into a murderer’ debate, I simply replied, “It’s fine. They’re not people.”

I left it at that, but I have to admit that this brief exchange stuck in the back of my mind. Videogame violence has been a bit of a hot-button issue of late, with an explosion-tastic E3 prompting comment from veteran designer Warren Spector. “This is the year where there were two things that stood out for me. One was: The ultraviolence has to stop. We have to stop loving it,” he said.

Warren Spector is one of the people behind Deus Ex, of course, which could often be quite a violent title, but said he had tried to do something different with that game’s depiction of violence. “You know, Deus Ex had its moments of violence, but they were designed – whether they succeeded or not I can’t say – but they were designed to make you uncomfortable, and I don’t see that happening now. I think we’re just appealing to an adolescent mindset and calling it mature.”

This brings to mind the E3 presentation of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which seemed to be attempting to at least make its visceral combat shocking and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the deeply worrying reaction from the audience was to whoop, holler and cheer when protagonist Joel shot a scavenger, begging for his life, point-blank in the face. With a shotgun.

So I have to ask: Is this all we want from games? I’m certainly not averse to a bit of videogame ultraviolence (I’m sure I play and enjoy my fair share of shooters, after all), and I don’t deny that the violent content is generally presented in context. But put that aside for the moment, and ask yourself whether it feels like “gameplay” is increasingly becoming a synonym for “combat”. So I ask; is this all we demand from our interactive entertainment? Combat bookended by cutscenes?

It seems to be the case, or at the very least it seems to be the thinking for the majority of publishers and developers. Perhaps it’s thanks to the massive success of games like Call of Duty, but it seems violence sells, and the industry is content to keep feeding our seemingly insatiable hunger for it. We can look at something like Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider reboot to see an example of this; what was once a series that revolved around exploration and puzzling has been reborn as a gritty, cinematic experience complete with arrows in throats, headshots and the threat of sexual violence towards our heroine. Sure, there was combat in the old Tomb Raider games, but it always played second fiddle to other forms of gameplay. Now it almost seems that the combat is the gameplay.

This is not to say that there aren’t thoughtful, non-violent videogames out there, but they tend to be indie titles rather than triple A retail releases; things like Thatgamecompany’s Journey, or Jonathan Blow’s Braid. We don’t see these games on store shelves, nor do we see them advertised outside of the specialist press. So if people outside of gaming look at the pastime as nothing more than endless waves of violence, it seems to increasingly be the view that we are seeing as well.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing, but in these more risk-averse times, the majority of software houses are going to end up offering us experiences similar to those we’ve already had, and surely that is a bad thing. Variety is the spice of life, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t stand to play nothing but identikit military shooters all year round. Moreover, reliance on tried-and-true ideas may stifle the need (or indeed desire) to find new ones. I can’t stand it when people point out a problem and offer no solution, but I’m going to have to break my own rule here, as I can’t think of what forms such new gameplay ideas would take. Hopefully someone smarter than I can.

With the current crop of consoles likely in their final year, I don’t expect a sudden explosion of new gameplay ideas. But with a new hardware generation on the way, I’m hoping we’ll see more than just shinier graphics. Nintendo have shown their concept for asymmetric multiplayer with Wii U, and I hope that new ideas in hardware will lead to new ideas in software – for the industry as a whole.

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